Special Report: Thomas Cook boss urges industry-wide support for safer tourism charity

Gallery: Safer Tourism Foundation launch

A new industry-wide charity launches this week with the aim of reducing preventable deaths, injuries and illness to British holidaymakers. Lucy Huxley reports

The Safer Tourism Foundation (SFT) is designed to be the “positive and sustainable legacy” of the deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu with Thomas Cook in 2006.

But while Cook has driven the launch of the foundation and provided the initial £1 million funding, it stresses the STF is a cross-industry initiative that it wants all players to back.

Speaking exclusively to Travel Weekly, Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser said: “It was after my first meeting with Christi and Bobby’s mother, Sharon Wood, that I realised it could be immensely important that we make some sustainable legacy and this is exactly what deepened our relationship.

“We came up with the idea for the Safer Tourism Foundation and asked Sharon if she would get on board with it. She said yes. It was an amazing step for her – to work with a company that had let her down – and I respect her for this.”

Wood has become a trustee along with Fankhauser and six others. “She will have a voice in the charity, which, as the mother of the two children who lost their lives, is important,” Fankhauser said.

“Cook committed an amount of money, but we didn’t want to make this a PR stunt. We needed to take it away from Thomas Cook and our tragedy, and get the whole industry involved, because the broader it becomes, the more credible it is,” he said.

Other safety issues

The foundation will also focus on other key threats, such as pool safety and balconies, and it will involve more than just the leisure sector. “We have experts from many relevant industries to make this into something really meaningful,” said Fankhauser.

“Sharon particularly sees the point that we take it much wider than just carbon monoxide and talking about her kids if it is going to do serious good.”

Fankhauser would like to see initial progress in three areas.

“I would like to see the travel industry really buying into this – operators, suppliers and newer players,” he said.

“If some of our competitors don’t see the importance of this as an industry-wide initiative, it will just make the traditional operators that do, even stronger.

“It’s the newer forms of travel company that need it urgently, so I am pretty confident that all will get behind this.”

Fankhauser would also like to see members of the STF share incident data.

“We currently don’t share our data or even report it in the same way. If we can standardise that and share it, we can start to build an accurate picture of the problems.”

He would also like to see members get into better contact with their customers, making them more aware of the risks they face, urging them to apply the same diligence to their safety on holiday as they do when they are at home.

Close to home

The charity’s first chief executive, Katherine Atkinson, was appointed at the end of 2016 and comes to the STF with more than 20 years’ experience in the charity sector. Ian Ailles has been appointed as non-executive chairman of the charity.

Currently director-general of the House of Commons, Ailles was the managing director of Thomas Cook’s specialist businesses at the time of the tragedy.

He said: “There’s an element of unfinished business as I left Cook within a month of Bobby and Christi’s deaths, so my moral compass has brought me back to this.

“I have always been a big supporter of The Travel Foundation, Travelife and Abta, and I’ve been the director of the Federation of Tour Operators.

“To get this charity moving, it needed someone who could work with Cook, but also relate to the children’s mother Sharon. It helps that I have a background close to this.

“This is a charity that crosses the divide between tour operators, agents, hoteliers, ground handlers, governments, tourism bodies, trade associations, gas providers and fitters, construction companies – anyone connected to the provision of holidays.

“The aim of the STF is to promote the creation of the right infrastructure and the right approach to health and safety so that everyone is working to a common theme – cross-industry and cross-nations.”

He said the STF’s initial aims include getting as many companies to sign up to the pledge to support the charity. This includes cruise lines, land holiday providers, domestic operators and those selling holidays overseas.

Customer care

Another key focus is to improve travellers’ sense of risk while on holiday by making them aware of the dangers and boosting their ability to make sensible decisions.

Ailles said this would be done by providing better information that consumers and agents can access for advice before they travel.

“The internet has made it even harder as there’s too much information and rules are different in every destination. We will provide much more directional and informed advice in one place.”

Ailles underlined the importance of building an ‘evidence database’ of incidents that can be shared with all members to help them make better decisions about who they partner and work with.

“A more mid-term aim is to possibly introduce a system like the Travelife one for sustainable hotels that would identify those properties that have undertaken all health and safety checks.”

He added that agents could play their part by particularly supporting those suppliers which have signed up to the STF.

Ailles concluded: “For nearly 10 years, Sharon has been pushing for something like this, so if I have one short-term goal, it’s that we create a charity that is meaningful and does some good quickly.

“Given what Sharon’s been through, I don’t want to sit on grey policy proposals. We have to do things that add value, are practical and make tangible differences.

“We have to keep more people safer on holiday.”

Operators on board

Companies that have said they will sign up to the foundation’s pledge are:

• Thomas Cook
• Tui
• Saga Group (Saga, Titan, Destinology)
• Hotelplan (Inghams, Esprit, Ski Total, Inntravel, Santa’s Lapland and Explore but not Regaldive)

Gallery: Safer Tourism Foundation launch

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